June 18, 2012

The Summer Series - Tawna Fenske

I cover two main topics on this blog - motherhood and writing. Last week in the first guest post of my series, we looked at the former. Today we will explore the latter. My lovely friend Tawna Fenske is here to discuss an exciting genre  - interactive, or active fiction.

I first met Tawna on Twitter. I started reading her awesome blog and connecting with her as often as I could. We even had the opportunity to meet in personI have read both of Tawna's novels, and reviewed the first one here on my blog. Today, she is going to talk about her latest - Getting Dumped from Coliloquy.

For those who may not be aware, what exactly is interactive fiction?

Well, here’s the official definition I ruthlessly stole from Coliloquy’s website:

Coliloquy is a digital publisher of active fiction. Our proprietary platform lets authors create episodic content, branching narratives, and interactive environments that deepen reader engagement.  The result is innovative new forms of digital fiction that move beyond traditional publishing.

I adore Coliloquy and everyone there, but that description kinda makes my head hurt. Each Coliloquy author is using the technology a little bit differently, and I liken the way I’m using it to those old “choose your own adventure” books I loved as a kid. The difference is that these are strictly for e-readers, and authors get weekly data about what readers are choosing. We can use that to help us craft the next episodes of the story. 

For instance, in the first episode of Getting Dumped, the key choice point surrounds which of three potential love-interests the heroine calls in her moment of crisis. I’ll admit that of the three men, I had a definite favorite. My agent and publisher had a different favorite. I was stunned when the data started rolling in and a large chunk of readers actually preferred the third guy—a character I’ll confess I didn’t particularly like. Seeing the way readers responded to him made me take a step back and make some changes in how I’d planned to write the second episode (which is slated for release in late-June).

How did you get in to it?

I’m probably supposed to say it was part of a highly-developed, strategic career plan I’ve devised for myself. The truth is that my agent dragged me kicking and screaming. Well, I shouldn’t say kicking and screaming, but I was skeptical when she first told me about it. I remember thinking, “you want me to write for this startup publisher no one’s ever heard of, and I’m going to do it without being paid an advance?” It’s very different from the traditional publishing model, so I was leery. But the more I learned about it, and the more enthusiastic my agent was, and the more the industry started buzzing about Coliloquy, the more excited I got about writing stories in such a new and innovative way.

It also helps that my royalty rates are quite good. I never give dollar figures when discussing my writing, but here’s a comparison just to give you an idea how this works. In February 2010, my agent landed me a three-book deal with a traditional publisher for my romantic comedies. I received an advance, as is generally the case with a traditional publisher. Eighteen months later in August 2011, the first book, Making Waves, was released. Ten months later—just last week, in fact—I received my first royalty check for “earning out” my advance within those first four months of sales.

By comparison, I signed contracts with Coliloquy right around the time Making Waves was released. Five months later in January 2012, Coliloquy released the first episode of Getting Dumped. Though I didn’t receive an advance before publication, I started getting royalty checks almost immediately. Within the first three months of sales, I’d pocketed a little less than half of what I gotten as an advance for my first book in the traditional publishing model, and that’s before the second episode of Getting Dumped has even been released.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to both models, but I very much enjoy being able to experiment at this stage in my career. Coliloquy has been great to work with, and I love having things happen at such a speedy pace.

What special challenges does interactive fiction present for you as a writer?

Writers who like to plot out their books from start to finish would probably have a tough time with this sort of writing, because you have to be able to adapt and change with the data. You also have to be a pretty speedy writer.

I originally wrote Getting Dumped several years ago as a typical beginning-to-end book, so it was technically “finished” when I agreed to revise and turn it into an active fiction title. I did a TON of revising to turn the first 2/3 of the story into an episode with a choice point and a cliffhanger ending that leads into lead into the second episode.

Once the first episode was released and I saw a couple months of reader data, I jumped into what was originally the second 1/3 of the story and turned it into a second episode that’s roughly the same length as the first (which I guess means I wrote 1 1/3 books, huh?) That episode was much different from how I’d originally planned to wrap up the story, but I loved having the freedom to do that and having the data to know I’m giving the readers what they want.

Do you enjoy it? Why or why not?

I enjoy it very much! It’s also a ton of fun to take some risks and experiment with new and innovative things that force me to test my skills and keep my writing sharp. The folks at Coliloquy are awesome, too, so that makes it even more fun!

Tell us what interactive fiction you have published and/or in the works, and where they are available.

This changes daily as Coliloquy continues to add more platforms, but right now, the first episode of Getting Dumped is available for all Kindle formats, for Nook tablet, and for Android. I know they’re working on a ton of additional platforms, so others will be available shortly.

Thank you so much, Tawna, for participating in my series. I actually got my hands on a copy of Getting Dumped and will be reviewing here on my blog later in the week!

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